Learning to tune out, go within, and write privately in public spaces
One of the many changes I have made in my life over the last month is joining a writing group. The group of diverse writers share space and energy, more than story ideas or critiques. We meet in a large coffee/sandwich space every Friday midday for two hours. The space has ample tables to spread out our laptops, tablets, and other personal belongings, including our name cards, so that we can greet each other and create a writing community. The walls of the building we meet in are mostly glass, or they have large windows that let plenty of natural light in. The pulse of the shop beats with a constant stream of customers, and there is a pleasant hum of energy and uplifting music playing through the speakers overhead. There seems to be a core group of dedicated attendees, but otherwise the group varies from week to week, as people show up when they can, balancing their writing time with life demands. One writer I met during my first visit had just finished a book and was preparing to write and travel abroad.
Get ready to write …
After a fifteen-minute greet and get settled period, everyone begins working independently on their own project. Several writers are working on book projects, another is writing a script, others journal or blog. Even though we are not collaborating on writing projects, we are creating a group energy that I could not recreate on my own. We write for twenty minutes, rest for five, and repeat, during our two-hour time together. This timed routine of focused attention, followed by a short rest period is helpful and healthy and one I should have been following for years as a teacher, while grading endless papers.
I was a bit reluctant to join the group, because I did not believe that I could be productive in a coffee shop experience, with the distractions of movement and conversation stealing my attention. My hesitation in joining the group was also grounded in my reluctance to share my writing with strangers. Not that I had a writing project to share during my first visit, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to critique or have my work critiqued by another. Not yet, anyway. I had many reasons to not attend my first writing group, but I put my hesitation aside and joined the other writers five weeks ago. I have attended each week, with the exception of my week away in Tucson. I am so glad I did not let my reasons for writing in solitary confinement derail me from the experience of sharing space with other writers. I have learned many things about my writing self in a short time.
I have learned …
- that I can tune out busy-ness around me and tune into my inner thoughts and actually complete a coherent sentence.
- how much I enjoy being in the presence of others who share the common goal of putting their thoughts on paper, regardless of what each final writing purpose or project might look like.
- how important group accountability is for my growth. Knowing I am connected to a group of writers raises my accountability and the likelihood that I will “show up” and get some work done.
My initial hesitation about being too distracted to write in a coffee shop was unfounded. To my surprise, I was able to type two pages of draft during my first visit and the experience left me energized, not depleted, as I had feared. I thought my only path to inspired ideas and creative writing had to take place in the quiet solitude of my home office. I was wrong. Perhaps my hasty judgments about my ideal writing space were based on my experience of trying to write or grade in a classroom alongside forty restless teenagers. It just did not happen, so I stopped trying. Even if my students were supposed to be quietly writing themselves, there were always a few distractions and I felt it my responsibility to supervise my class and not allow myself to be fully immersed in my own work. Their productivity and safety was my top priority and my writing tasks would have to wait until I had quiet time after school to focus without interruption. The writing tasks I was attempting to complete were related to my teaching responsibilities, but I felt it more important to be fully available and accessible for their needs-which were many and constant.
Of course, these responsibilities included grading, grading, and more grading. Too many times of being interrupted while trying to grade essays, research projects, or tests while my students were also working, caused me to restructure my grading routine. For the most part, it happened only after school, when I could read and comment on one sentence one time, versus having to reread and repeat, due to interruptions. My teaching philosophy and style did add to my workload and hours, but I have no regrets about being fully committed to my students’ progress. Now, it is my time. It is my time to write, express, and share and not worry about the group of teenagers talking over their lunch, or the group of seniors catching up over tea, or the toddler hitting the writer across from me with a Styrofoam sword brought from home (true story). The conversations and movements of others are theirs to share and no longer mine to manage.
Copyright © 2020 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.